What's the difference between азбука and алфавит? My book is constantly using the former, however most of the videos I found use алфавит. Is азбука still used?

  • 5
    "Азбука" has an additional meaning - a book that is used to study alphabet.
    – Vitaly
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


In essence these are supposed to be synonyms, as both terms are derived from names of alphabet characters - on the one hand азбука out of А - азъ and Б - буки (names of the letters in the pre-reform Russian alphabet) and on the other hand Alpha + Beta correspondingly. The first is a native Russian word (i suppose) whereas the second is obviously borrowed.

However in modern language алфавит is used to denote alphabet proper while азбука is a name for a type of colorful children textbook (or another auxiliary material) which teaches alphabet. You can get an idea if you Google search images with the term азбука.

  • 6
    азбука is a Church Slavonic calque from the Greek, I would not call it native Russian
    – J-mster
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 8:00
  • if it was invented in Russia i guess it's native in the sense of not being directly borrowed Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 10:17
  • 1
    Neither the letter names, nor the word "азбука" were invented in Russia. As pointed out by @J-mster "азбука" comes from Church-Slavonic "азбукъı" which is a calque from Greek, using the names of the two first letters of Glagolitsa alphabet А (азъ) и Б (боукъı).
    – Vitaly
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 19:47
  • i'd be interested to know where the word азбука was invented, Bulgaria, Greece? Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 21:08
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    @Баян Купи-ка Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets were invented by Cyril, Methodius and their students. C & M were born in Thessalonica (modern Greece). They spoke Old Bulgarian. They translated the Bible into their language, working in Great Moravia. So Church Slavonic originates from Old Bulgarian. As brothers made the alphabet they also made mnemonics to remember the order of the letters. The words "азъ буки вѣдѣ" are rather meaningless to a Russian speaker, but they are translated as "я буквы знаю" from Old Bulgarian. Likely the word азбука was coined in what's now Czech Rep by "Bulgarians"
    – Vitaly
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 13:42

In addition to the correct answer provided I just want to add that азбука can be used to indicate something very basic, the most fundamental laws, like in following phrases:

  • Это просто настолько азбучная истина, что я даже не думал тебе это как-то дополнительно разъяснять.

  • Азбука хорошего настроения - никогда не поддаваться унынию.

You can not say это же просто алфавитная истина or алфавит хорошего настроения instead.

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